A swashbuckling Kharadron captain finds himself caught in a high-stakes conspiracy
Drekki Flynt! Captain of the Aelsling, known throughout the Skyshoals of Achromia! Say his name and make half a tavern starry-eyed, while the other half mutters about how much money he owes them. Drekki Flynt! Uncommonly tall for a duardin – an adventurer, an endrineer, a wit, and a self-proclaimed genius. Drekki Flynt... is in trouble. Lured by the promise of a lucrative contract, Drekki finds himself at the mercy of his nemesis, Rogi Throkk, who gives him an ultimatum – recover the fabled talisman of Achromia, or die. As it is, Drekki will probably die anyway, but that's really not Throkk's problem. Braving perils including – but not limited to – giant air-beasts, grot pirates, and terrible storms, the crew of the Aelsling is sucked into a conspiracy that will see an ancient empire rise again, or fall forever to Chaos...
Release date: March 14, 2023
Publisher: Games Workshop
Print pages: 368
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Arkanaut's Oath
A poet spoke. This is what he said:
‘Rain pounded. Cold gathered against the tops of the Fourth Air. Bavardia suffered bad weather as a matter of course. For those abroad on the street, atmosphere wrapped meagrely about the body, failing to warm, failing to nourish labouring lungs. Everything was thin there – air, prospects, life, love. Only the rain was thick, thicker than beards, thicker than oaths, thermals thrust up from the lower airs, flattened by the chill into thunderheads that lashed the town with oily, unpleasant waters.
‘Drekki Flynt, Kharadron privateer, came into port. His crew weathered the rain like rocks do, grey, silent and stoic. They were grim. Nobody liked Bavardia.
‘Bavardia was a young place, a lawless place, one of a dozen towns budded off great Bastion, the last remnant of ancient, shattered Achromia. If hope for the future had established Bavardia, despair of the present ruled it. Heirs to a venerable empire, the citizens brought ambitions with them that they could not fulfil. Their dreams were beyond their grasp. A young place with an old soul, Bavardia was filthy as infants are, soiling itself, unsure of its limits, creeping up one crag, then up another, always on the verge of catastrophic tumbles, never settled, uncoordinated, wild with the potential and vulnerabilities of youth. Built upon ruins, reminders of what had been, sad, lost, and yet full of hope. Bavardia! A town of–’
‘Oh put a sock in it, Evtorr Bjarnisson. On and on all the bloody time with the bloody poetry!’ Drekki Flynt said.
The flamboyant ancestor face that fronted Drekki’s helm was known across the Skyshoals. Then there was his drillbill, Trokwi, skulking head down on his shoulder. He usually gave the game away, and if the little automaton was still insufficient a clue, the massive axe Flynt carried on his shoulder was equally unmistakeable. For the truly unperceptive, the ogor plodding through the water in front of him cinched the deal. No one flew with Gord the Ogor but Drekki Flynt! Say Drekki’s name aloud of a night and astound a bar. ‘I’ve fared with Drekki Flynt!’ was a common enough boast. But just then, there was no one to see. No one to hail Drekki or to curse him.
To call the streets ‘streets’ was a generous lie; they were yellow streams pouring from the hills behind the town. The flood cut the earth of the unpaved roads, leaving hollows and rounded stones to take feet by surprise. Tall Gord was untroubled, the water foaming about his tree-trunk legs. For him this was fun. The others struggled on in his wake in varying levels of misery.
‘Do we really need the running saga about how filthy this weather is in this filthy town, when it’s all running down my bloody trouser leg?’ Drekki went on. Rain rattled so hard off his closed helm that he had to shout over the noise.
‘But, captain!’ Evtorr protested. ‘I’m chronicling your latest adventure. It helps to say the words out loud, so I’ll remember.’
‘Thanks, but no thanks. No amount of poet’s polish is going to put a shine on this bilge pit, so stow it in your deepest hold, Evtorr, and keep it there,’ said Drekki.
‘I’m supposed to be Unki-skold,’ protested Evtorr. ‘Couplets and rhymes is what I do, captain.’
‘You’re ship’s signaller, too. Stick to that. You’ve more talent there,’ chided Drekki.
The others in Drekki’s party chuckled. Evtorr’s verses were an acquired taste,
one that no one had yet acquired. Evtorr’s helm drooped. He had spent good money having its moustaches inlaid with silver, so all would know he was a poet. Never had his metal mask looked so woebegone.
‘Yes, captain,’ he said.
‘Now now, don’t sulk, write it down later, and torture us with it when it’s finished,’ said Drekki. ‘You never know, you might pen a good one yet.’
‘Doubt it,’ piped up Evrokk Bjarnisson, ship’s helmsduardin, and Evtorr’s brother. ‘He’s been trying all his life. Not got there yet!’
‘He left me out and all,’ grumbled Gord. ‘All stout duardin. I’m stout.’ He slapped his massive ogor’s gut. ‘But I ain’t no duardin!’
He laughed at his joke alone. The crew were too busy avoiding being swept away to find it funny. Being duardin meant being shorter than a human, broad across the shoulder, with powerful, stocky limbs and large hands and feet. Beards. All the usual physiognomy of the children of Grungni. Their form was suited to life underground, as ancient history attested, and surprisingly well fitted to life in the sky, as the more recent Kharadron nations had proven, but rather poor for swimming. Heavy-boned duardin sank and drowned more often than not, and a duardin weighed down by aeronautical equipment most certainly did. It was a fate they were at some risk of just then.
‘Come on, stunties,’ Gord said cheerily. ‘Not that hard. Push on now.’
‘Not that hard!’ said Kedren Grunnsson, ship’s runesmith. A unique appointment on a sky-ship. He was no Kharadron. You could tell by the way he moved. The crew wore aeronautical suits of design so similar they were virtually indistinguishable, but Kedren stuck out. He walked stiffly, as someone who had become accustomed to the gear rather than born to it.
‘Over there! Way up’s on that side,’ said Gord. They waded to the side of the street.
‘Look at this. Ropes!’ Kedren said incredulously, tugging at the lines anchored to the buildings. They were at human height, for it was mostly humans who dwelled in Bavardia. ‘What good are ropes? What about paving? What about drains? What about choosing a better site for their town rather than this piss-filled bathtub!’ He grabbed hold just the same.
‘You’re no fun, ground pounder, too grumbaki by half,’ retorted Adrimm Adrimmsson, who was dragging himself along behind the smith.
‘Is that me you’re calling grumbaki, Adrimm? The grumbliest duardin alive? There’s a cheek!’
‘Now now, my lads,’ said their captain, who had it a bit easier, being safe in the ogor’s lee. ‘We’ll soon be out of the rain and into the dry. Ales all round. Some meat! That much I can promise.’
Adrimm didn’t take the hint to shut up – he rarely did – and continued to moan at Kedren.
‘I could have stayed on the ship,’ said Adrimm.
‘What, and miss all the fun in this sewer?’ said Kedren. ‘That’s the fourth turd that’s slapped into my gut.’
‘I keep telling you aeronautical gear has its benefits, Kedren,’ said Otherek Zhurafon, aether-khemist, and Kedren’s long-standing friend. ‘Sealed in. Turd proof.’ He rapped a knuckle on his chestplate.
‘Proof? Pah! It will take forever to get the stink out,’ said Kedren. ‘I hate this place. I hate this funti weather.’
‘Listen to the oldbeard,’ said Drekki. ‘Evtorr was right about one thing, at least – nobody likes Bavardia.’
Offended, the rain redoubled its efforts to wash them out, and they were forced to cease their grumbling for a while.
‘Keep on, stunties, keep on!’ bellowed Gord. ‘Nearly there.’
The crew reached a set of steps that led off the road to a raised pavement.
‘I suppose we’ll be dry now,’ said ‘Hrunki’ Tordis, who would have had a monopoly on optimism in the crew, were it not for Drekki.
‘Dry? Dry?! All this pavement is is a shoddy substitute for good civic planning,’ said Kedren.
Gord stepped aside to let the duardin up. Buffeted by the flow yet untroubled by it, he shepherded his crewmates with care. A good job too. Although Drekki mounted the steps all right, Gord was obliged to catch Kedren to stop him being whirled away.
‘Grungni-damned, Grimnir-cursed stupid umgak city,’ growled Kedren as Gord deposited him on the pavement. One after another the crew scrambled up, shedding filthy water. Buildings covered the pavement over, forming a sheltered area, though to duardin sensibilities it looked like it had been done by accident rather than by design. Buildings of stone leaned on buildings of wood, propped up over the pavement on wonky timber posts and rusty iron girders.
‘This place was surely built by grobi,’ said Evrokk. There was a sense of wonder in his voice. ‘You couldn’t design a collapse better than this if you tried.’
‘You say that every time we go to an umgi town!’ said Evtorr, still peevish at his brother.
‘Worth saying, that’s why. Unlike your verse, brother,’ said Evrokk.
‘Come on, come on, beards straight! Keep your aether shining,’ said Drekki. ‘Umgi build as they will, and bad weather we have, but good beer awaits.’ Even Drekki didn’t swallow his own bluster. His jollity was entirely forced.
There were a few folk around up above the flood but they hurried on by, heads down, eager to escape the weather, and not one recognised the captain, to his chagrin. The crew trudged into tottering alleys as water and shit surged down the streets below. A rat’s maze to be sure, but it could not defeat their beer-sense. A duardin can find his way to a pub all turned about and blindfolded.
Drommsson’s Refuge was the sole duardin-built place in town, with four square walls and a roof of precisely engineered bronze plates. Old Drommsson hadn’t trusted human foundations and had cut his own right through the clay until he hit rock. Old Drommsson didn’t like human beer, so served only the best duardin ales. Old Drommsson didn’t like humans at all, but always seemed to find himself among them. Old Drommsson was a host of contradictions. Old Drommsson was a lot of things, but most of all Old Drommsson was dead.
‘Fifty raadfathoms!’ Drek
ki said, recalling the old publican’s words. ‘Do you remember that?’ He elbowed Kedren. ‘He boasted long and hard about the depth of the pilings he had to put in. He always used to say that, remember? Fifty raadfathoms! Good old Drommsson. Eh, lads?’
He turned about. His duardin were subdued, aetherpacks steaming, rain plinking loudly from the brass.
‘Well, a more miserable line of skyfarers I never did see. Show some spirit! You’re Drekki Flynt’s swashbuckling crew, not a bunch of half-drowned skyrinx. I’ve got an image to think of!’
Drekki sighed into his helm, a noise like a night wind teasing the rigging. For a moment, he wished he were back out at sky. ‘All right, lads. First round’s on me.’
The crew perked up remarkably.
Behind the Refuge’s roof the great copper sphere of the brewery vat swelled invitingly, not dissimilar in appearance to a Kharadron aether-endrin globe.
‘Now there’s a promise of beers to be drunk, eh, lads?’ said Drekki.
They reached the doors. They were sheathed in bronze, and decorated in beaten, geometric designs of the sort that once graced the gates of the ancient mountain karaks. Very inviting, but Drekki stopped, and turned to face his crew.
‘Hold it right there, lads,’ Drekki said. ‘Before we go in…’
‘Can we at least get out of the rain before you give us one of your interminable pep talks?’ Adrimm moaned.
‘Eh? Interminable? Pep talks? You stow it, Fair-weather,’ said Drekki, using the nickname Adrimm hated. ‘This is important. We’ve got our rivals. We have our friends. There might be either in here tonight. We’ve a delicate job ahead of us. Our client does not want a fuss, of any sort. Keep yourselves below the aethergauge. I don’t want a lot of notice. Certainly not like last time, right, Umherth? Umherth? Are you listening? That was embarrassing.’
‘If you say so, captain,’ said Umherth, not at all abashed. Hrunki, his constant companion, sniggered into her helm.
‘A low profile, right?’ said Drekki, wagging his finger. ‘All of you. Low profiles. So low, I don’t want to see your heads over the bar. Got that?’
A rain-sodden chorus of ‘aye, captain’ came back.
‘Right then,’ said Drekki. He rubbed his hands together. ‘Beer time.’ He took a step, stopped, and looked up at Gord.
‘Actually, you’d better go first, Gord. Just in case.’
‘Right you are, captain,’ said Gord. He covered three duardin strides in a single, decisive step, both hands out. They banged into the doors like battering rams, flinging them open with a metallic boom and revealing a big entrance hall, full of lockers for skyfarers’ kit. From the atrium, inner doors led into the common room. Gord strode right in and pushed those open too.
Warmth, light and laughter streamed out. Someone was playing an aether-gurdy. Badly.
Gord stopped in the middle of the bar.
‘Oi!’ the ogor bellowed. ‘Clear a table! Captain Drekki Flynt’s in town!’
The noise faltered. When the hubbub returned, it had a different flavour. Urgent, excited, somewhat annoyed.
Drekki grinned. ‘Say what you like about our ogor,’ he said, ‘he certainly knows how to make an entrance.’
‘I thought you said low profiles all round, captain?’ said Evtorr sharply. He could nurse a sulk like no one else.
‘Hush now ,’ said Drekki. ‘You’re spoiling it.’
An unmissable sign was built into the wall over the inner doors. Letters cut from steel proclaimed in seven different tongues that there were no weapons, absolutely no weapons, NO WEAPONS AT ALL allowed inside.
‘You’ve all read Drommsson’s words,’ Drekki said. ‘Kit off, guns in boxes. He was insistent about that. Respect the wishes of the ancestors.’
‘Aye,’ they said, though Old Drommsson was no ancestor of theirs.
‘In memory of Old Drommsson!’ Evtorr said. ‘A finer duardin there never was, a purveyor of beer and wine! Step in feeling badly, step out feeling fine!’
This time, no one told him to stow it. Several of them touched their foreheads at Old Drommsson’s portrait hanging to the left of the doors, as shock-haired, furious and beady-eyed as he had been in life.
Trokwi shook out metal feathers and gave out a sad peep.
‘You fear rust? I’ll oil you back on board,’ Drekki soothed. ‘A proper oath that, my little friend.’
The glass-fronted kit cases lining the walls were big enough for the aetherpack, helm and heavier parts of an aerosuit. It was a Kharadron pub, after all, and built for their particular needs, although the lockers displayed several other kinds of duardin gear, and that of humans besides. There was an attendant on duty behind a low steel counter, more for the show than the necessity, as Drommsson’s was a classy place, and the locker room was fully automated, each kit box opened by means of tokens bought from a vending machine whistling steam in the corner.
Drekki shot the attendant a grin and a waggly-fingered wave. The attendant shook his head disapprovingly and went back to reading his news-sheet. Drekki was well known in those parts. That wasn’t always a good thing.
As the crew unburdened themselves of their gear, sighing with relief at the reduction in weight, Gord was poked back out of the common room by a pair of po-faced guards armed with aethershock poles. Gord had his hands up, but he was growling, tusks bared.
‘So it is you,’ said the elder of the guards, when he caught sight of Drekki. He was missing an ear, had a peg leg, an eyepatch, and a grizzled beard; the living definition of tough. ‘I was hoping this was someone else’s ogor.’
‘Tish, Fronki! Who else flies with the likes of Gord but Drekki Flynt?’ said Drekki.
‘I dunno, another annoying pirate?’ offered Fronki.
‘Very droll, my friend, but I’m no pirate,’ said Drekki.
‘Everyone flying Barak-Mhornar’s colours is a pirate in my book,’ said Fronki. ‘Not only my book neither. Pirates, the lot of you.’
‘Is it really Drekki Flynt?’ said the other guard. He was a little starry-eyed.
The elder nodded. ‘Aye, it is. Don’t get excited. The stories about Flynt are better than the reality. The reality’s a pain in the dongliz.’ He gave Gord a warning eye. ‘Now you, ogor, weapons stowed, or you’re not coming in.’
Gord grunted, but unbuckled his gun belt just the same. His aetherpack thumped hard to the floor. His helm was big enough to bathe in. All off, his kit took up two lockers.
‘Come on, lads!’ Drekki exhorted the crew. ‘You’re looking a little glum still. Spines straight! Little bit of swagger please, as if we’re fresh into port with riches aplenty!’
‘But we’re not, are we?’ moaned Adrimm. ‘We’re poor.’
‘Shhh!’ said Drekki. ‘Beer today, riches tomorrow.’ He lifted off his helm, revealing a shaved head, long snowy beard tipped with gold, and a dark-skinned face he thought handsome.
The crew combed out their beards, set their shoulders straight and walked into the common room with the rolling stride of seasoned sky-farers. It was cosy after the chill of the Fourth Air rains, full of lamplight and thick with the comforting smell of pipes, beer, sweat, and flatulent duardin. The furniture and walls were clad in hygienic copper, which gave the place a comforting glow not too distant from that of a forge.
Drekki pointed a finger at the proprietor.
‘Dromm Drommssonsson!’ he shouted with a beaming smile. ‘Did you not hear my ogor? My usual table, if you please!’
‘Call that a low profile?’ grumbled Evtorr. ‘Because I don’t.’
Drommssonsson was the spitting image of his dead old dad, right down to the furious scowl, but he nodded all the same, and prodded a couple of Dispossessed prospectors out of Drekki’s favourite corner. He polished the booth until the copper cladding gleamed, then beckoned them over.
‘Drekki,’ he said.
‘Dromm,’ said Drekki. They exchanged tight nods, as much emotion as duardin acquaintances will show before they’ve had their ale.
Dromm Drommssonsson looked the ogor up and down, as if he hoped he’d have shrunk to a respectable size since their last meeting.
‘Still too big, Gord,’ said Dromm with a shake of his head.
‘Not big enough,’ said Gord, slapping his gut. ‘I want to be bigger. Feed me.’ His nose was twitching at the smell of meat drifting out of the kitchen.
‘I’ll get your special chair,’ said Dromm, managing to make it sound like the world’s greatest inconvenience. ‘What do you want to drink?’
‘Meat,’ said Gord.
‘To drink,’ said Dromm sourly
‘And gods let someone answer who can count.’
‘Well,’ said Drekki. He did a quick head check. ‘There’s Otherek, me, Kedren, the Bjarnisson boys, Umherth, and Hrunki…’
When Drekki called her by her nickname, ‘Hrunki’ Tordis Trekkisdottr saluted and grinned. She was missing her front teeth and had bigger muscles than the males. Beardless, she was, but fierce.
‘Then there’s Gord, of course. So that makes eight. Let’s say Gord counts for four, for he is an ogor when all’s said and done…’ He muttered sums quietly under his breath, the integers of intoxication. ‘How about we keep this light and just start off with, say, a single firkin? That’s only sixty-four pints. We don’t want to overdo it. I’ve got an important meeting on.’
‘Firkin it is,’ said Dromm. ‘And meat for the ogor,’ he added grudgingly.
‘Meat for all of us!’ said Drekki. ‘It’s been a trying voyage, and we’re hungry.’
It didn’t take long for the crew to shake off the rain and their trudge through Bavardia. Nor did it take them long to finish off that first firkin. As they dried, a rich smell of dirty water and unwashed skyfarer rose around them, adding to the convivial fug. Soon they were red-nosed, twinkly-eyed and sentimental as only ale-filled duardin can be. When Kedren and Evtorr started singing songs of the old karaks, the rest of them joined in, and then they were definitely having a good time. Gord never sang; instead he worked his way methodically through the roast ox Dromm provided, happy in his own way.
Happiness calls to trouble, as they say in the Kharadron baraks. It’s right to be suspicious of it.
‘Where’s this lord, then?’ asked Otherek. ‘Who is it, Lerarus? Human?’
‘Lerarus, and human,’ confirmed Drekki. ‘I’ve no idea where he is.’ He shrugged. ‘No telling with umgi. They can’t keep to a straight schedule for the life of them. We’re here, as promised, and he’s not. But eh!’ He elbowed Otherek tipsily. ‘That just means more time for drinking beer.’
‘He better show up,’ said Adrimm. ‘I’m sick of being poor.’
‘You’re rich, Adrimm, as long as there’s ale in your belly and more in your pot!’
‘Hurrah!’ they shouted, except Adrimm, who rolled his eyes.
Drekki tipped the barrel over Adrimm’s mug, trying for a flourishing refill, but found instead the last dregs of booze. He frowned at the cloudy trickle.
‘Typical,’ said Adrimm.
‘I’ll get more,’ Drekki said. He swayed a little as he got to his feet. Trokwi spread his wings to keep balance. By then the crew were making more noise than any other party in the place. Drekki’s stomach grumbled. He pulled a face and let out a long, ripe burp. ‘That’s better!’ he shouted.
The lads cheered.
‘Shhh, shhh, shhh!’ Drekki said, waving his hands. ‘Low profile, remember?’
His crew giggled, then stopped. Drekki frowned. They were looking behind him.
Drekki followed their gaze around, and found himself chest to chest with another skycaptain. Drekki was tall for a duardin, and had to squint down to see who it was.
‘Yorrik Rogisson?’ he said in puzzlement. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘To give you this, Drekki bloody Flynt!’ Yorrik shouted. His fist followed swiftly, connecting hard with Drekki’s nose. Drekki fell backwards into the table, spilling beer everywhere. His crew scrambled to their feet. Chairs scraped on the flagstones. Perfectly laid, of course.
All noise in the pub stopped, suddenly, completely, the kind of silence that intimidates pin-drops. Eyes flicked back and forth over the rims of pint pots. There were a lot of Kharadron in Drommsson’s from a lot of different crews. A lot of grudges. Calculations were underway on the merits of settling one or two.
‘That’s for stealing my sister,’ snarled Yorrik.
Yorrik had company. Behind him, arrayed in a loose line, were several duardin of his own. They stood with their chests thrust forward, beards bristling, broad hands hooked into broad belts, elbows out. The Kharadron had left their subterranean origins behind, but they acted like tunnel-dwellers still, puffing themselves up to fill the space around them.
The tension creaked up a notch.
Drekki shook his head and got back up. He wiped a hand across his nose and moustaches, bringing it away s
treaked with crimson.
‘Ah,’ said Drekki, as if surprised that he could bleed. ‘How many times, Yorrik? Aelsling came of her own free will.’
‘Don’t you talk about my sister,’ said Yorrik.
‘Your sister, my wife,’ said Drekki. ‘And you started it.’
‘Ex-wife, you unbaraki, preening, cheating…’ he spluttered, looking for further insults. ‘Overly tall, Grungni-damned sky pirate!’
Drekki let out a weary sigh.
‘Tall? That’s an insult? Try harder, Yorrik. You’ve a worse way with words than Evtorr here.’ He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at Evtorr, drawing Yorrik’s eye away from the pint pot he was snagging with his other hand. ‘And I’m not a pirate!’
‘There’s bad blood between me and you, Yorrik. There needn’t be.’ Drekki held out his arm. ‘Let us embrace instead, like brothers should.’
‘You’re not my brother, Drekki Flynt.’
‘There’s no weapons in here, no violence. Remember the wishes of Old Drommsson, that this be a refuge from the travails of life in the open airs, where skyfarers can come together, ...
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...